God’s Work In Your Depression
One anonymous young woman writes in with a question. “Hello Pastor John! I’m normally an optimistic person and full of life. But lately it has been such a struggle to even want to get out of bed in the mornings. I’m a student at BCS and I am very grateful for all the lessons God is teaching me here, but I dread going to class. This is so discouraging because I moved many miles so that I could come to this school. Deep down I don’t doubt God still wants me here, but I don’t think he wants me to have this attitude about life.
“Is this depression? I have almost no motivation for anything. I have been praying and I will keep praying for God to be my strength but how do you fight when you don’t feel like fighting? Each morning brings with it a desire to stay in bed for days so I don’t have to face life. I truly hate feeling this way because I feel I have lost my joy in God’s will for me. I feel oppressed by the powers of this dark world and don’t see an escape. . . . I really appreciate you answering such hard questions. It helps me remember that by no means am I the only warrior in this fight against the devil.”
Oh, how I feel empathy for this, because I’ve tasted these kinds of seasons many times: don’t want to get out of bed, dread doing the things we have to do, no motivation for anything, don’t feel like fighting the fight, loss of joy in what we thought God had called us to do, oppressed by what feels like demonic darkness. That’s her situation, and I’ve tasted it, and so I feel a kind of urgency for her. She asks, “Is this depression?” Of course, my answer is, “I don’t know.” I’m not close enough to the situation. I don’t know her well enough. I would say to you — she didn’t give us her name — if you have a history of depression, you’ll probably know what kind of season this is. If you don’t, I certainly wouldn’t jump to that conclusion automatically.
Depression is not a simple black and white thing. There are many degrees of discouragement on a continuum into the most debilitating kind of depression, and you’ll certainly want to be alert to that. I would recommend, if this continues, a physical checkup with a doctor just to make sure there’s no, for example, mononucleosis or some kind of nutritional issue. We are body and soul, and our bodies can play tricks on us and wreak havoc with our minds and our spirits. If we were sitting together, I’d probably ask you about sleep habits and exercise habits and eating and so on. There’s so many ways that we can be depleted, and it feels spiritual when it has physical roots as well.
I’m going to depend on you to know yourself and your history and your physical condition and to get the help you need in that regard, but let me just point to a few wonderful, spiritual, biblical, God-given truths that he means for your help and strength right now.
1. First Corinthians 10:13, “No testing” — and you probably know as a student with your Greek that the words temptation and testing are the same in Greek — “No testing has overtaken you but what is common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond what your ability is, but with the testing he will provide a way of escape” — and then here comes the key phrase — “that you may be able to endure it.” The issue is one of endurance, not just escape. The escape is the capacity to endure. Know that he’s got you in this season of testing, and he has got you there not beyond your ability to endure.
2. When God tests your endurance, he’s not doing it because he doesn’t love you. This is so plain in Hebrews 12:6following that he delights in his children whom he disciplines. Delights in them. Isn’t it amazing that when he disciplines us, he’s disciplining the son in whom he delights, or the daughter in whom he delights? Don’t let the Devil convince you that this season of testing is because God is against you. That’s hellish. That’s not from heaven. “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11).
3. Psalm 40:1–3 portrays David mired in the darkness and waiting for the Lord. I just want to testify that much Christian obedience consists in waiting for God to do what we need him to do when the timing seems very slow to us.
4. God’s word, the Bible, is specifically designed for these seasons of testing. “For whatever was written” — this is amazing; this is sweeping — “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance” — there’s the key word: the endurance, or getting through tough things — “through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). If you can, insomuch as you can just make it a few verses, be in the word every day. Even though you don’t feel like fighting, give yourself that medicine every day.
5. Acknowledge that only divine power, and I mean mighty power, can sustain you and me through the tests like this. I mentioned it because Colossians 1:11 has often amazed me. It goes like this: “[May you be] strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might” — now, what’s all that for? — “for all endurance and patience with joy.” Which says to me that endurance and patience with joy requires omnipotent power. We think it’s a small thing. You’re not fighting a small battle. This takes omnipotent divine power to sustain Christians through times of testing.
6. Remember, God knows your frame and that you are just dust. Psalm 103 is sweet. Verse 13 says, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.” He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust. Isn’t that amazing that God takes into account the fragile frame that we have as humans?
7. The last thing I would say: Take hold of one or two specific promises. Write them on a piece of paper. Put them in your pocket to carry through the day, or in your purse, and take them out and read them to yourself, or memorize it and say it to yourself often. Say it over and over again. Declare your allegiance to Jesus in and through specific promises, like these two that I thought of for you in closing:
Psalm 139:11–12, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” What feels like darkness to you is not darkness to God. He’s in the bright light, and he knows how to take care of you.
The last one is Isaiah 43:2–3, “and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” If so for Israel, how much more for those in Jesus.
That’s my prayer for you. God is faithful. He will do it.
John Piper is founder and teacher of DesiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For over 30 years, he served as senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. John is the author of more than 30 books, and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at DesiringGod.org. John and his wife, Noel, have four sons, one daughter, and an increasing number of grandchildren.